A Tanka Repair Kit

  by Jeanne Emrich

               ~ Whether you are trying to fix your own verses or help others fix theirs,             
                              consider using the tools  in this tanka repair kit. ~


   Contrived concept


   The obvious



   Overt parallelism


   Overly dramatic action


   Archaic language

   Mimicry of forms

   Overloaded first line

   Reader fatigue by 3rd line

   Excessive modifiers

   Personal particulars

   Anti-climactic line

   Over-wrought emotion

   Unintended ambiguity

   Grocery list effect

   Scatter shot details

   Dry objectivity

   Form distorting content    

   Distracting form



   Fabrication in content.

   Lack of originality

   Clipped language

   Awkward enjambment




Divide poem in half to dilute the contrivance. Add new content from a different context.

Delete emotionally-charged images and language. Focus on a few quiet details that hint
 at the larger story.

Suggest with details culled from the periphery of the experience.

Retain the meaning, but reframe the verse using a different slant or different images.

Drop generalities. Comment on the particular.

Delete "I too" connectors. Have the parallel activity happen in the same setting described
in the first strophe.

Recast the verse in an everyday, unsentimental setting. Show the emotion, don't name it.
Cut sweetness with a shadow image.

Depict a telling detail observed after the action is over.

Delete mention of the cause of the described effect. Try omitting explanatory connectors
such as prepositions.

Rephrase in everyday, natural language. Reorder awkwardly placed phrases.

Read contemporary tanka to get a feel for the natural expression typical of the form.

Shift the lines around; the last line should have the most weight or punch.

Reframe the 3rd line with a new phrase, pivot, or twist. Tell a story with a hook
 at the first or second line.

Delete the modifiers and see if the nouns can carry the meaning.

Write about your mother, but not "Margaret."

Position the strongest line as the 5th line.

Depict the after-effects of a strong emotion or dramatic situation.

Reorder lines so a reference immediately follows its subject.

Combine some lines grammatically.

Delete extraneous details. Focus on a particular and significant detail.

Put yourself or some other person in the poem. Add concrete images that show your emotional state. Tell a story.

Relax any rules you may have about tanka form. Let form emerge as you write.

Delete unnecessary, experimental, and otherwise awkward word placements and line breaks.

Put aside strict adherence to a syllabic count or line length concept.

Cut an extended metaphor. Delete causes. Change subject or focus by the third line.
Use a detail the reader would not expect from outside the context of the preceding lines.

Use an authenticating, real life detail to make a scene or expressed feeling believable.

Delete connecting words to create unexpected "leaps" or unusual juxtaposition of images.
Use contemporary images.

Employ articles as you would normally, but avoid repeating them within the five lines.   
Aim for the pacing of conversational speech.

End a line on a strong verb or noun, not on an article or conjunction, e.g. "and."

Put a concrete image in each line.

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